Nepal arrests seven Christians over allegations of converting people to Christianity

Seven Christians were arrested on Thursday, June 9, in Dolakha district, Nepal for allegedly converting people to Christianity.

The seven Christians had reportedly distributed handkerchiefs together with Bible handbooks called "A Great Story" to a total of 885 students.

Overview of Pashupatinath temple, near Kathmandu, Nepal. 23 July 2008 | Wikimedia Commons/China Crisis

Among those arrested, two were owners and principals of private schools: Prakash Pradhan, proprietor of Mount Valley Boarding School, and Bimal Shahi, proprietor of Modern Nepal School. Pradhan and Shahi often organize activities for the students.

The others who were arrested were part of a Christian organization called Teach Nepal: Banita Dangol, Bhim Bahadur Tamang, Balkrishna Rai, Kiran Dahal and Philip Tamang.

Local authorities learned about the activity and reported it to the police, according to UCA News. The persons involved were all arrested on charges of converting other people to another religion through the distribution of religious handbooks, which is illegal under the constitution.

The 2015 amendments to the Nepalese constitution include a provision that makes it illegal for any person to convert another to a different religion.

Article 26 (3) states: "No person shall, in the exercise of the right conferred by this Article, do, or cause to be done, any act which may be contrary to public health, decency and morality or breach public peace, or convert another person from one religion to another or any act or conduct that may jeopardize other's religion."

The amendment does not specify which activities are considered as acts of religious conversion.

Although "freedom of religion" or expression of one's beliefs is allowed in the country, this provision has made evangelization an illegal activity in Nepal. Christians in the country fear that this could lead to the inclusion of an "anti-conversion clause" in the penal code, which could put violators in prison, according to World Watch Monitor.

Nepal is 80 percent Hindu. Religious minorities, including Christians, comprise only 1.5 to 3 percent of the total population.

The seven arrested Christians were told they would be released if they make a verbal commitment that they will not do similar undertakings in the future.

A group of Christians, including church leaders, will meet with the Home Ministry officials to discuss the release of the seven.